Labour leadership: Candidates apologise over anti-Semitism

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All four Labour leadership candidates have apologised to Jewish members over the party’s handling of anti-Semitism, at a heated debate in London.

Rebecca Long-Bailey said she had spoken out over the issue at shadow cabinet, but she could have “done more”.

Her leadership rival Emily Thornberry had accused her of inaction on the issue during a debate on Wednesday.

The Jewish Labour Movement, a party affiliate which co-hosted the hustings, decided to back Lisa Nandy on Friday.

The Wigan MP said she was “honoured” to receive the group’s endorsement, after 51% of its members decided to award her the affiliate’s official nomination.

Brexit spokesman Sir Keir Starmer was second on 45%, whilst Ms Thornberry and Mrs Long-Bailey only received 1.9% and 1.4% of the vote respectively.

Ms Thornberry, the party’s shadow foreign secretary, is the only contender yet to secure her place on the members’ ballot beginning next week.

She needs endorsements from a further three local party branches before a midnight deadline on Friday to qualify for the final stage.

During the 90-minute hustings at a synagogue in north London, all four candidates were pressed on their record on, and ideas to tackle, anti-Semitism within the party.

Labour’s handling of the issue has dominated the tenure of outgoing leader Jeremy Corbyn, who is standing down following the party’s defeat at December’s election.

Watchdog probe

All candidates committed to implementing the recommendations of an ongoing inquiry into the issue from the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC).

The watchdog launched the probe into whether the party had “unlawfully discriminated against, harassed or victimised people because they are Jewish” in May last year.

Asked whether she had spoken with shadow cabinet members about anti-Semitism, Ms Long-Bailey said she had, but added: “Was that enough? No it wasn’t.”

“Could I have done more? Yes.”

During a BBC Newsnight debate on Wednesday, Ms Thornberry accused Ms Long-Bailey of failing to push for tougher action on the issue within the shadow cabinet.

Ms Thornberry said that along with Sir Keir, she had called for “regular reports” on cases within the party but Ms Long-Bailey had not done the same.

The shadow business secretary rejected this, responding: “I did, I think you’ll find.”

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Media captionEmily Thornberry and Rebecca Long-Bailey clashed during Newsnight’s Labour leadership hustings

At the Jewish Labour Movement hustings, Mrs Long-Bailey said the party needed to put in place a “legally independent” process for handling complaints, and offer training to members on spotting “insidious” anti-Jewish conspiracy theories.

Ms Thornberry said the party was now dealing with the issue of anti-Semitism by kicking out members, but asked: “Why on earth did we not do it two-and-a-half years ago?”

She said as leader she would also be pressing for the Conservative Party to adopt a plan based on the EHRC inquiry, adding that the governing party “have issues too”.

Sir Keir said getting to grips with the issue of anti-Semitism would require “strong leadership,” and would be a “day one issue as far as I’m concerned”.

Lisa Nandy, who quit the shadow cabinet over Brexit in 2016, said anti-Semitism had become an “existential” issue for Labour and revealed she had previously considered her position within the party over the issue.

At the scene

Analysis by BBC political correspondent Helen Catt

It was clear from the start of this hustings that the Jewish community would be looking for real answers on anti-Semitism.

In her opening speech, veteran Labour MP Dame Margaret Hodge accused the leadership candidates of “rewriting the history of the last four years,” and told those who had turned out to hear them that they were owed “an explanation” for why they had not spoken up more loudly before.

Rebecca Long-Bailey was given, perhaps, the toughest time. Her claim that she spoke out about anti-Semitism was greeted with shouts of “when?”.

While each candidate spoke of their shame, sadness and anger at what had happened, it is clear that the new leader will need to do much more than say sorry to repair Labour’s relations with the Jewish community.

The good news for the candidates: a show of hands from the audience suggested the candidates tonight may well have made a start.

In a speech in Salford on Friday, Ms Long-Bailey set out a “path to power” for Labour, following its fourth general election defeat in a row.

She said the party had to offer “aspirational socialism”, with the leadership strengthening its links with Labour local associations and trade unions.

Labour must be a “self-confident alternative” to the Conservatives, Ms Long-Bailey added.